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"Zero Dark Thirty" finds no takers in Pakistan

January 29, 2013

Director of "Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow arrives with Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (C) and screenwriter Mark Boal at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences 4th annual Governors Awards in Hollywood December 1, 2012. — Reuters Photo

KARACHI: Pakistani movie distributors and television stations are boycotting an Oscar-nominated film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and popular US dramas to avoid offending sensibilities or sparking a violent backlash.

Pakistan may have a starring role in Kathryn Bigelow's “Zero Dark Thirty”, which dramatises the 10-year CIA hunt for the 9/11 mastermind, but local cinemas are steering clear of a film they say could make people feel humiliated.

Similarly, a local cable distributor is blocking transmission of the smash hit dramas “Homeland”, starring Claire Danes, and “Last Resort” on the grounds they are against national interest.

The boycotts are the latest form of unofficial censorship in Pakistan, where YouTube has been blocked for four months over a trailer for the anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims”.

“Zero Dark Thirty” has topped the box office charts in the US and earned five Oscar nods. But in Pakistan, the raid to kill bin Laden is considered one of the blacker incidents in the country's history.

A US Navy SEAL team killed the Al Qaeda chief in his hideout less than a mile from Pakistan's premier military academy on May 2, 2011 in Abbottabad.

“We have not and neither has anyone else bought Zero Dark Thirty,” said Mohsin Yaseen, a representative for film distribution company Cinepax.

He described the film as “pro-American”, despite controversy in the US over its depictions of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” widely seen as torture.

“It has several scenes which could make us feel humiliated. It is against the interests of the Pakistani nation,” said Yaseen.

The chairman of the Film Censors Board told AFP it had not reviewed “Zero Dark Thirty” because there had been no request to do so.

In 2010 censors banned Indian Bollywood comedy “Tere bin Laden”, which poked fun at the Al Qaeda leader, on the grounds that it could incite violent backlash and terrorist attacks.

Max Media, which has the rights in Pakistan to cable channel Star World, is refusing to transmit “Homeland” and military drama “Last Resort”.

While “Last Resort” features US nuclear strikes on Pakistan, the country is referred to only briefly in “Homeland”, which stars Damian Lewis as a US Marine who is also a suspected Al Qaeda agent.

“We strongly believe that programmes such as 'Homeland' and 'Last Resort' are against our national interest, cultural values and ideology,” said an official at Max Media who did not want to be named.

He said the programmes were suspended in keeping with a code of conduct from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra) and warned that even “a vague reference about Islam can ignite violence in Pakistan”.

But a thriving trade in pirated DVDs allows Pakistanis to watch whatever they want in the privacy of their homes and “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Homeland” and “Last Resort” are big sellers.

“We do not have any threats or concerns, nor has any one stopped us from selling these DVDs,” said a salesman at one popular DVD shop in Islamabad.